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Canada edges France in men's curling opener

Canada skip Glenn Howard delivers his stone during play against France at the World Men's Curling Championship 2012 in Basel March 31, 2012.


Glenn Howard couldn't hide his frustration after making a pair of early errors in Canada's round-robin opener at the world men's curling championship.

With lips pursed, the normally happy-go-lucky skip popped his broom handle on the floor, shook his head and tugged at his shirt collar. France took advantage of Howard's missed takeout attempt in the third end but the Canadian skip refocused and eventually guided his rink to a 7-5 victory.

"I was a little disappointed in myself," Howard said. "I missed a couple shots I don't normally miss early and got us down."

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It was an uncharacteristic start for the three-time world champion, who settled for a single point in the second end when he threw his final stone through the house.

"I missed a free draw for two — I just had to hit the rings," Howard said. "That was a brain cramp more or less. I disappointed myself, I don't do that very often. What do you do? Every once in a while it happens. I just tried to concentrate on the ice, make sure I didn't overthrow it and make sure I got it to the right spot.

"I think personally I got it going a little bit after that, which is what you have to do and my guys hung in there."

French skip Thomas Dufour was steady but his rink faltered late in the game. Howard and teammates Wayne Middaugh, second Brent Laing and lead Craig Savill took full advantage.

When Tony Angiboust — who throws fourth stones for France — missed a double takeout attempt with his last throw of the seventh end, Howard came through with a draw to the button to score three.

"We didn't panic, we just did what we had to do," Howard said. "I thought we outplayed France in the last half of the game and that basically was the difference."

There was a tepid atmosphere in the 9,000-seat venue as only a few hundred fans took in the opening draw on a sunny Saturday in this picturesque Swiss city.

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Middaugh said he battled some jitters at the start.

"It's the world championship and you've got the Maple Leaf on your back," he said. "We were a little bit nervous but we steadied our way through.

"That's the whole goal for the week, just get better as the week goes on."

France made it a one-point game heading into the 10th end but Howard hit a double-raise takeout with his penultimate throw. He then cleared out a French stone to score one for the victory.

"It was a good start for us to play against a team that was playing well and was ready for us," Middaugh said. "You know what, we were ready for them. Luckily we had the one big end there and that was the difference."

Canada will play Germany and the United States on Sunday. Top skips like Norway's Thomas Ulsrud, Scotland's Tom Brewster and Sweden's Niklas Edin are on tap next week.

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"There's no free space on the bingo card here as far as I'm concerned," Howard said. "Every team is going to be good and we expect them to play that way. Hopefully we just play that one shot better."

In other early games, Norway needed an extra end to defeat Denmark 6-3, Germany outscored the Americans 8-6 and Scotland topped New Zealand 5-3.

Scotland moved to 2-0 later Saturday with a 11-6 win over Norway while Sweden doubled hosts Switzerland 8-4. China downed the Czech Republic 9-5 and Denmark eased by winless New Zealand 11-4.

The Canadian players looked slick with their black and red shirts, white belts and black pants. The Norwegians, playing on the next sheet over, retained their usual fashion edge on the competition with their colourful flag-inspired trousers.

There were pockets of fans from each country in the arena. A few Canadian flags and banners were spotted and some vocal French supporters were on hand as well.

Round-robin play continues through Thursday. If necessary, tiebreaker games will be played Friday.

The Page playoff system will be used at this event. Playoff games begin Saturday and the medal games are on tap April 8.

Teams also have an opportunity to earn Olympic qualifying points for their countries at the competition.

Howard's previous world titles came in 1987, 1993 and 2007. He teamed with Laing, Savill and Richard Hart to win his last world championship.

Middaugh joined the Ontario team prior to this season after Hart's retirement. Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton beat Scotland 6-5 in last year's world championship in Regina.

Notes: The Canada-France game was featured prominently on the lone big-screen monitor in the venue. ... World Curling Federation vice-president Patrick Hurlimann threw the traditional first stone. Howard and Swiss skip Jan Hauser handled brusher duties. Hurlimann skipped Switzerland to a gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano. ... Basel hosted the European Curling Championships in 2006. ... Canada has won the world men's curling title in four of the last five years. Victoria will host the event next year. ... Host Switzerland's last world title victory came in 1992.

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